Croatian Court Sentences Serb Paramilitary Commander For War Crimes

Dragan Vasiljkovic (R)
Photo: AP

Croatian court in the city of Split has sentenced Tuesday 26 September the former Serb paramilitary commander and Australian citizen, Dragan Vasiljkovic, a.k.a. Captain Dragan, a.k.a. Daniel Snedded, to 15 years in prison for war crimes committed in Croatia during Serb aggression against Croatia in the 1990s.

The sentence is pathetic. If true justice were handed out then the man would spend the rest of his life in prison.

The municipal court in the coastal town of Split said Tuesday found that the rebel Serb paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic had during the 1991-95 Croatian Homeland war, when Serbs took up arms against Croatia’s secession from communist Yugoslavia, killed, tortured and beaten civilians and Croatian police prisoners in a fortress in Knin prison in 1991 and that his attack that same year on a series of villages near Glina had resulted in the deaths of civilians.

The 63-year-old Vasiljkovic, who was born in Serbia, went to Australia at the age of 15 but returned to the former Yugoslavia to train Serb rebels in 1991, when Serbs took up arms against Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia.

He spent nine years in detention in Sydney fighting extradition, claiming he would not receive a fair trial after The Australian had exposed his war crimes in a 2005 article. Vasiljkovic was discovered by Australian Federal Police while working on a yacht at the Harwood Slipway in the Clarence Valley (state of New South Wales, Australia) after 43 days on the run. He was then extradited from Australia in July 2015, after fighting a 10-year legal battle against being handed over to Croatia’s judiciary.

He became Australia’s first extradited war crimes suspect.

While praised in Serbia and among Serbs worldwide as disciplined soldier with no mercy, in Croatia he was known as a smug self-promoting commander of a special forces unit, the feared Kninjas, that sought to drive out ethnic Croats from the border area known as Krajina (territory covering about 1/3 of Croatia and occupied by Serbs during the war via ethnic cleansing of Croats and other non-Serbs, murder, rape, plunder and destruction).

The three-judge Croatian court panel found Vasiljkovic guilty of two of the three charges, which included torturing and beating imprisoned Croatian police and army troops and commanding a special forces unit involved in the destruction of Croatian villages. He was found responsible for the death of at least two civilians.
About 60 prosecution witnesses were questioned during the trial, including those who said they were tortured by Vasiljkovic.

The court found that Vasiljkovic, as commander of special Serb purposes unit of the paramilitary forces, for the training of special units known as Alpha, acted against and in breach of Geneva Convention.

When Vasiljkovic strode in the historic old fortress town of Knin in the Dalmatian hinterland near the Bosnian border in early 1991 tensions against secessions from former Yugoslavia reached boiling point from Serbia direction, his connections with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic’s secret police who sat at the apex of the power structure were already well-established.

The deadly assault at Glina in July 1991 was an early bloody chapter in the genocides committed by Serbs in Croatia. The Glina assault is among the war crimes tribunal’s three allegations against Vasiljkovic, who is accused by Croatian prosecutors of commanding troops who tortured and killed prisoners of war; commanding a deadly assault at Glina in 1991; and training paramilitary units that committed war crimes at Bruska near Benkovac in Croatia’s central Dalmatian hinterland in 1993.

When Croatia declared it wanted independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Vasiljkovic adopted the moniker Captain Dragan and was encouraged by Serbian intelligence chiefs Milan Martic (sentenced to 35 years prison in The Hague) and Franko Simatovic (currently on retrial for war crimes in The Hague) to train special forces units in an old scout hall in the village of Golubic from where he often led his own unit on military operations.

Vasiljovic’s lawyer Tomislav Filakovic said in Split: “Captain Dragan didn’t expect such a harsh sentence, this has come as a big surprise.
We don’t believe the prosecution presented substantial evidence to arrive at such a verdict and we will appeal.’’

His lawyers will lodge a request for Vasiljkovic to released immediately because he has served nine years in detention in Australia and a further two years in a jail in Split. Under Croatian law prisoners can be released after serving two-thirds of their original sentence.

Vasiljkovic, who was widely believed during the war to be working for Serbia’s secret service, has claimed innocence throughout the one-year trial, saying the whole process was rigged. The judges ruled that they will take into account the time Vasiljkovic served in detention in Australia and in a Croatian prison, meaning he has three and a half years of his sentence remaining.

As much as Serbia may pursue its denial of direct involvement in the violence and genocide in Croatia (and Bosnia and Herzegovina), which led to the rising of Croatian defence forces against the backdrop of UN arms embargo, strong Yugoslav Peoples’ Army acting for Serbia’s interests, and an impoverished material defence resources Vasiljkovic’s case serves also as a reminder of the horrors Croats went through during the Homeland War. Any lasting reconciliation can only be achieved via truth and justice such as the one seen surfacing in the Split court on Tuesday, even if the sentence is pathetic when compared to the brutality of the crimes. One must not forget that many Serbs known or suspected of war crimes in Croatia had, as part of the deal for peaceful reintegration in Croatia of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium, in 1998, been given amnesty from prosecution for war crimes.  This is something that is most painful for Croats. However, as there is no statute of limitation for war crimes and a revisit to the matter with view to rescinding the amnesty would no doubt serve the needed justice for victims of war crimes. Ina Vukic

 

Croatia: War Crimes Trial Against Serb Dragan Vasiljkovic Finally Commences

DRagan Vasiljkovic at court Split, Croatia 20 September 2016 Photo:Hamze Media

Dragan Vasiljkovic at court
Split, Croatia
20 September 2016
Photo:Hanze Media

 

Serb former paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic (aka Captain Dragan, Daniel Snedden) went on trial in Croatia on Tuesday 20 September 2016 accused of torturing and killing soldiers and civilians during the 1991-95 war of Serb aggression against Croatia. Prosecution alleges that Vasiljkovic, 61, violated the Geneva Conventions while in charge of a Serb paramilitary unit known as the Red Berets by torturing and murdering civilians, prisoner Croatian soldiers and police in the rebel Serb stronghold of Knin in summer 1991 and Bruska near the town of Benkovac in 1993. The charges carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence in Croatia.

 

The 61-year-old was indicted in January 2016 for the detention and torture of Croatian civilians and police in the ethnic Serb rebel stronghold of Knin (the so-called self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Krajina) at the start of Croatia’s 1990s independence war. As commander of a Serb paramilitary unit, he did “nothing to prevent and punish such crimes” that occurred in 1991, and personally took part in them, according to the prosecutors.

 

Prosecutors claim he orchestrated a deadly attack in 1991 on the central town of Glina and the surrounding region in which a civilian and a German reporter were killed while the local Croat and other non-Serb population were forced to flee their homes.

 

The trial in the city of Split will be held under heavy security measures and so far the prosecution has put forward 55 of its witnesses and defence is still to put forward its list of witnesses. Hence, its likely that the trial will last quite a while.

Dragan Vasiljkovic at war crimes trial Split, Croatia 20 SEptember 2016 Photo: Hamze Media

Dragan Vasiljkovic
at war crimes trial
Split, Croatia
20 SEptember 2016
Photo: Hanze Media

Vasiljkovic was extradited last year (2015) after Croatian authorities sought an arrest warrant for the fugitive. Extradition process from Australia took ten years, much of which period Vasiljkovic spent in custody awaiting outcomes from and exhaustion of all his rights under the Australian laws. Vasiljkovic has dual Serbian and Australian citizenship, told the court in the Adriatic city of Split that he “feels absolutely no guilt”. He is also accused of drawing up plans to attack police stations.

 

It’s believed to be the first time an Australian citizen has faced court for war crimes and this had ignited a bitter debate about whether he is a national hero (in Serbia) or depraved criminal. Vasiljkovic was born in Belgrade, Serbia and moved to Melbourne aged 14 with his family and was granted Australian citizenship in 1975 according to court documents. He returned to Serbia during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. When Croatia declared independence in 1991 Vasiljkovic trained Serbs to lead operations against the Croats. A Bosnian woman, Jamila Subasic, has accused him of rape and claims he abused her in front of other men. He denies being present at the hotel where it is alleged to have taken place.

Velibor Bracic Photo: NIKSA STIPANICEV / CROPIX

Velibor Bracic
Photo: NIKSA STIPANICEV / CROPIX

A former Croatian prisoner of war, Velibor Bracic, 41, travelled 2009 from Croatia to testify in the NSW Supreme Court in a defamation case brought by Dragan Vasiljkovic against Nationwide News, publisher of The Australian newspaper, had told the court that an Australian citizen accused by Croatia of war crimes (Dragan Vasiljkovic) kicked him in the head in a fortress prison in the early 1990s. recalled how Vasiljkovic personally beat him while showing his subordinates how to do it properly.”He said: ‘If you beat him then you should do it like this’ and then he kicked me in face,” Bracic told Nova TV upon the suspect’s extradition. He described his detention as “24 hours of mistreatment each day… beatings with rifle butts, hands.”
On one occasion, the guards allegedly brought in a baby bear and the inmates were forced to kiss the bear’s backside.
Other times, guns were put in their mouths, while a guard, with his hand on the trigger, would ask: “Do you want us to kill you?” Mr Bracic said. The inmates were also taken outside for mock executions.
The inmates were later transferred to the abandoned Knin hospital. In addition to beatings, the prisoners were allegedly given electric shocks and sexually assaulted.

Anne McElvoy Photo: Twitter

Anne McElvoy
Photo: Twitter

British newspaper executive Anne McElvoy, who was a war correspondent for The Times in 1991, told the Sydney court in 2009 via videolink she had asked a Serb paramilitary commander in Knin, who had said he was Captain Dragan, about his views on targeting civilian buildings.
“He said: ‘Nobody needs to be armed since I got here. I’m not here to kill people, just neutralise the enemy. When the Croatian side uses hospitals or police stations in their villages as fortified positions, I’m sorry, I just have to massacre them.’ ”

 

Slobodna Dalmacija news portal from Split reports that entering the court in the city of Split in Croatia 20th September 2016 Vasiljkovic said that he was defending Yugoslavia, that he had the feeling it was pulling away from him and that he is not an aggressor. In that context he mentioned that he feels the Adriatic Sea is his.
Well, nothing new there – Serbia and Serbs who attacked Croatia all thought the same and many still do. Hence, Croatia needs vigilance for its own safety for the Serb hunger for Croatian lands is quite vicious.

 

 

There is still no limit as to how far Vasiljkovic will go to insult Croatians. At the entry to the court in Split on Tuesday he reportedly also said that many Australian Croats keep the picture of General Ante Gotovina (Croatian General who led the military operation Storm in August 1995 that liberated Knin and occupied Croatian territory of Krajina from Serb occupation) but that they also keep his picture.

 

Dragan Vasiljkovic war crimes trial Split, Croatia 20 September 2016 Photo: Hamze Media

Dragan Vasiljkovic
war crimes trial
Split, Croatia
20 September 2016
Photo: Hanze Media

Mid-September 2016 Vasiljkovic had sent a complaint to the UN claiming he was illegally detained in Australia for years and unlawfully extradited to Croatia. In his statement to the UN he alleged that he had suffered from the “violation of the right to liberty and security of a person, as well as the excessive length of the investigative detention”. He urges the UN Human Rights Committee to tell Croatia that he should be freed from custody and allowed to mount his defence while on bail. His lawyers are now awaiting a positive result from the UN, i.e. that Vasiljkovic will receive bail and be able to defend himself from outside prison. The problem with that is that he is a huge flight risk and I certainly hope that the UN Human Rights Committee will think of human rights his alleged victims had and that is a right to justice. If he gets bail he is likely to flee into Serbia or somewhere like that, which could take another ten years to get him back to trial in Croatia. As I see it, Vasiljkovic has had his ten years of evading justice and it’s now the victims’ turn to get justice. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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https://inavukic.com/2012/10/06/red-poppies-of-croatian-independence/
https://inavukic.com/2015/07/15/croatia-demands-for-serbias-accountability-for-crimes-in-concentration-camps/
https://inavukic.com/2014/12/17/indicted-serb-war-criminal-dragan-vasiljkovic-loses-final-battle-against-extradition-to-croatia/

Croatia: Demands For Serbia’s Accountability For Crimes In Concentration Camps

Members of Croatian  Association Of The Inmates  Of Serb Concentration Camps  In The Split-Dalmatia County File Motion For Damages and Serbia's Accountability Photo: Sime Duvancic

Members of Croatian
Association Of The Inmates
Of Serb Concentration Camps
In The Split-Dalmatia County
File Motion For Damages
and Serbia’s Accountability
Photo: Sime Duvancic

 

Eighty-eight former inmates of Serb-run concentration camps from Split-Dalmatia County, during the 1990’s Serb-aggression against Croatia, on Tuesday 14 July 2015 filed a motion at the prosecutor’s office in Split for a peaceful settlement of their claims for damages in which they ask that Croatia request on their behalf that Serbia compensate them as a requirement for its accession to the European Union.

Through this motion of peaceful settlement, through the institutions of the Croatian state, we wish to achieve a result that either our own country takes care of us or that it, at least, in a future move towards Serbia implements a condition that Serbia must satisfy our compensation claims before it can become a member of the European Union,” said Ivan Turudic, the Croatian Association Of The Inmates Of Serb Concentration Camps In The Split-Dalmatia County.

The 88 former inmates spent a total of 8,668 days in Serb-run camps, each losing about 99 days of their lives to torture and deprivation in these camps.
In 2006, over 30,000 former inmates, including 500 children and over 2,500 women, filed a class action in Serbia claiming damages from Serbia, but the action involving Croatian veterans’ claims was not even considered and the one involving children, the elderly and women was rejected by the court in Serbia.

Ivan Turudic, President of Croatian Association Of The Inmates  Of Serb Concentration Camps  In The Split-Dalmatia County  Photo: Marko Saric

Ivan Turudic, President of
Croatian Association Of The Inmates
Of Serb Concentration Camps
In The Split-Dalmatia County
Photo: Marko Saric

Turudic said there were few final rulings in the towns of Knin and Sibenik. “Recently, the problem has arisen that when a final ruling is passed, we cannot be compensated because those who were tried for war crimes have no property in Croatia.”

Dragan Vasiljkovic

Dragan Vasiljkovic

Furthermore, Turudic says that it looks like the victims of the Serb-run concentration camps will not be able to extract any money as compensation from Dragan Vasiljkovic (a.k.a. Captain Dragan and Daniel Snedden) who had been extradited to Croatia from Australia last week to face war crimes charges (including torture in the Serb-run concentration camps) as he has been reported to be bankrupt after having to pay out damages for defamation in Australian courts.

Serbia must be held accountable and responsible for any damages suffered under its brutal aggression.

Members of the Croatian Association Of The Inmates Of Serb Concentration Camps In The Split-Dalmatia County say that while believing in the Croatian institutions they have been forced into an insufferable situation of hopelessness and left at the margins even though they comprise one of the groups that suffered most during the 1990’s Homeland War under Serb aggression.

 

Due to the suffering, many of them, because they were so brutally and violently tortured, will not live to see a final court ruling, let alone compensation – there is a high death rate among them, said Ivan Turudic.

He said damages were paid to “those who destroyed Croatia’s constitutional and legal order, while the victims are still waiting for the right to compensation.”

Victims of Serb Concentration Camps In Croatia Seeking To Make Serbia Responsible For The Suffering Caused Photo: M. Turudic

Victims of Serb Concentration Camps
In Croatia Seeking To
Make Serbia Responsible
For The Suffering Caused
Photo: M. Turudic

We are justified in asking whether we, the veterans who were also incarcerated in concentration camps, have been forgotten in our own country, do we belong to a second order and have no right to justice, while the other side gets any of its cases or claims attended to promptly and we then ask by what right does that minority, which had committed the crimes in the name of Greater Serbia politics, continues to terrorise and impose its will upon the majority,” said Turudic.

Indeed, there is no way that the current government will even try helping the Croatian veterans along the way to justice and dignity through some deserved compensation. The communists and former communists within this government seem to be intentionally walking on egg-shells so as not to “offend” the Serb minority, from whose circles the 1990’s war criminals against Croatia and Croats arise, despite the blatant need for true justice.

No wonder, war veterans have been protesting non-stop in Zagreb for the past 270 days or so! New cases of veteran neglect and disregard arise all the time and this case of those who suffered terribly in the Serb-run concentration camps in Split-Dalmatia country is just another example of hopelessness and sadness that has gripped Croatia. Serbs will always deny guilt for any crimes – we are witnesses to that infuriating fact. Such being the case I would have thought that the Croatian government and its institutions would have put in extra effort to assist its veterans receive justice. The current foreign affairs minister Vesna Pusic would have surely been the one from Croatia who did not lift a finger in trying to keep these Croatian claims in Serbian courts afloat. While she cannot as minister interfere in court cases these though were rejected on political reasons, hence room to give firm diplomacy a go. But no.  She has had a strong role in helping Serbia maintain its war crimes denial and injustice towards victims. So, the positive side is that Croatia has war veterans and victims of Serb aggression, ethnic cleansing, genocide, torture, rape… who will not permit they are forgotten! Any politician who picks up on that fighting for justice energy from the war veterans will, according to many indications of political psyche, be the winner of tomorrow as far as true leadership goes for Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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